Talitha Thurau was raised on one of the first certified organic farms in Massachusetts, where her stepfather tore out the family’s oil heater so they could learn to cook on a wood stove. As a teenager, she milked goats before hauling off to homeroom. After graduating from high school, she couldn’t wait to escape farm life, and traveled far, far away, becoming a lawyer in Brooklyn, N.Y.
About 10 years later, after having children, Talitha rediscovered her roots. She moved upstate to Cornwall, N.Y., where she shares nine acres of land with 50 goats, 60 chickens, 14 ducks, four dogs, and three cats. Last year, the seasoned farmer received a commercial license for Edgwick Farm with partner Dan Jones, and now spends just as many hours making and selling cheese as she did practicing law.
“I took my childhood on the farm for granted,” she says. “Now, so do my kids. People go crazy over our cheese, and my sons say, Mom, what’s wrong with these people? We eat this every day!’”
Graduated from: The New School, B.A. in liberal arts; CUNY School of Law
Based in: Cornwall, N.Y.
What guided your path from law school to cheese? After graduating from CUNY Law, I moved to Park Slope [in Brooklyn, N.Y.] and practiced law for 10 years. Then, I had kids and wanted to go back to my roots. I wanted my kids to eat right and live right, just like I had. My [now] ex-husband and I drew a big line around New York City and settled in Cornwall, about 55 miles away. We got goats and I made cheese when I had too much milk.
The process: We milk 40 of our 50 goats twice each day, pasteurize the milk, and then hang and drain it. Once you get all the whey out, you can make whatever cheese you want. But you can’t just follow a recipe; you need to look at how the milk behaves, based on the weather and the goat’s diet. I use pH strips for milk coagulation tests. Each batch of cheese is different.
That’s a lot of goats. Do you have help? Over the summer, we had a bunch of college students working as milkmaids. But I like getting in there, feeling the milk and curds, seeing what my girls are producing.
How do you differentiate yourselves from dozens of other cheese makers in upstate New York? We have the minerals from the soil and water of the Hudson Valley, which makes a big difference. Our milk is always fresh; it gets made into cheese within 24 to 48 hours. Great milk makes great cheese. Plus, our community is Cornwall is incredibly supportive.
How did you meet Dan Jones, your business partner at Edgwick Farm? He was a family friend in Cornwall, and we both went through divorces. In 2006, we took a training class to figure out whether cheese making was a viable business. It took five years to build the infrastructure of our business.
Dan says: I was Talitha’s backup milker when she went on vacation in 2003, and she kept me on after that. She began serving her cheese at barbecues and parties, and people raved about it, so I suggested going full-time together. We got a $120,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which gave us a leg up.
Your most popular cheese: Chèvre, which is the basic spreadable goat cheese. We marinate it in olive oil, Herbs de Provence, and freshly diced garlic for 10 to 15 days.
At this point in our conversation, Talitha tells me to hold. Chickens cluck in the background. “What are you throwing at the chickens?” she yells to Dan. Then she returns, apologizing.
Your favorite cheese: Sackett Ridge hard cheese. It’s a cheddar recipe that takes a few days of pressing and drying and six months of aging. It’s a sweet, mild golden wheel that sharpens over time.
How do you name your cheeses? Artisan cheese makers name their cheeses after local landmarks. Sackett Ridge is a landmark we can see from our farm.
Best part of your job: When baby goats are born. There’s nothing like it – it’s so joyous.
Most challenging part of your job: Where you have joyous birth, you’ll always have death, which is heartbreaking and difficult. Recently, we had a fox come through the farm and take a mother hen. Her chick has been walking around calling for her. I still cry whenever an animal dies.
Amount of cheese sold this year: About 20,000 pieces, which I hope to be 28,000 by December. I label each one by hand.
What does success look like for you? Feeding our neighbors in the Hudson Valley. Dan and I don’t want to be rich and famous; we just want enough money to feed our goats and make the most fantastic cheese possible.
Best autumn recipe using cheese: Bruschetta. Cover toasted bread with marinated Canterbury cheese and gorgeous heirloom tomatoes, and then marinate it.
On the agenda for this year: We’d like to teach people how to make cheese in their kitchens and how to have backyard goats. You need at least two goats; they’re herd animals that would be miserable alone. We also want to have backyard chicken-raising contests.
Your favorite cooking show: Oh, we don’t have a TV. We do read the New York Times every day, though. And we’re connected to many chefs in the Hudson Valley.
Do your children appreciate farm life in the way you wish you had? Between Dan and I, we have five teenagers. This is something they’ve always known, so they want to have their own lives. We have to give them that opportunity.
2. To make cheese in your kitchen, put two or three gallons of milk into a double boiler. No animals or bread-making in the kitchen, though. Yeast and other living critters will cross-contaminate it.
3. Most importantly, get good milk; that’s where it all starts. Raw milk is the best milk to make cheese with in your kitchen.